The Jeffries Affair
One afternoon last August, the columnist Murray Kempton of Newsday stood on a street corner in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, discussing academic politics with a middle-aged black man. Kempton had come to the riot-torn neighborhood in a city van to witness an outdoor press conference called by Mayor David Dinkins. Afterward, he joined the feeding frenzy of reporters who mingled with neighborhood onlookers, seeking an authentic voice of “black rage” to explain the preceding days of anti-Jewish rioting. Wearing a light gray-flannel suit, smoking a pipe, taking notes with a fountain pen, Kempton would have cut a striking figure on that stretch of Eastern Parkway under any circumstances. When he held up his looseleaf notebook and displayed a sticker that read, “Don’t Believe the Liberal Media,” he looked as if he had stepped out of a New Yorker cartoon—especially as he is famously liberal (if in a somewhat heterodox sense) himself.
In any case, his interlocutor seemed to agree with the sticker. Circling around in front of Kempton, the slight man with graying dreadlocks and a tam-o’-shanter woven of the African nationalist colors of red, green, and gold, kept pointing at the journalist and proclaiming: “I’ve heard his story, now I want history, because my story is a mystery.”
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